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Customer Experience and Design

Virtual Ideation Sure Beats a Conference Call

globe-bulbBeing a consulting firm, here at Perficient we have a “live anywhere, work anywhere” culture. What that means, essentially, is that while I live in Cincinnati, the colleagues that I work with daily live in places like Chicago, Phoenix, Atlanta, Houston…the list goes on and on. Add to that all of the places we travel to work with clients, and you can bet that if there is a metropolitan area in this country, then there will be a critical mass of Perficient employees located there.

Since my coworkers are spread across this country, on a day-to-day basis I take part in a bunch of conference calls that span three different timezones. As a result, this made viewing the video “A Conference Call in Real Life” the funniest thing I have viewed so far this year.

With the sounds of coworkers caught in tunnels and barking dogs dancing in my head, I was quite happy to attend a session by Merck on Virtual Ideation during the IBM Connect conference in Orlando. Like any company in life sciences, Merck is a company that grows based on ideas that spur innovation. Without those ideas, Merck cannot compete effectively in their marketplace. As a result, it behooves Merck to invest in better ways to ignite ideation in a global economy riddled with the dreaded conference call.

These facts behind them, Merck realized that a virtual collaborative ideation approach would be a major competitive advantage. To make virtual ideation a reality, Merck leveraged the strength of virtual community engagement to effectively cover selected research topics in breath and depth using the Lab of the Future. The virtual event concept IdeaBoost was used to activate and tap into the collective intelligence of a worldwide community within the confines of a four day virtual ideation event. I’ve seen unstructured enterprise social collaboration become a powerful tool for healthcare organizations across the country. Where IdeaBoost differs from traditional enterprise social is in the structure placed around it. IdeaBoost essentially combines enterprise social with a pre-determined timeframe combined with effective moderation and analysis.

How do you push breakthrough thinking?

IdeaBoost has three phases, which include:

  • Set the Scene: Making virtual ideation a success requires a great deal of prep work. Merck conducted a “mega trend analysis” and recorded interviews with industry experts and customers in order to create a “springboard” towards new business opportunities. Participants of IdeaBoost were able to take in this information in the days and weeks leading up to the event.
  • Identify & Refine Opportunities: This is where all of the voices that spur innovation collected together using social collaboration technology. Merck had a total of 300 people “attending” the virtual ideation event. In order to organize and make true meaning of this large collaboration effort, Merck had 3 moderators available for each IdeaBoost theme. These moderators were behind the scenes helping shepard dialogue into complete ideas. Moderators were expected to commit to 3 x 1.5 hour training sessions, complete their individual preparation, and then moderate the four day event. Merck found it effective to have all moderators in the same room during the four day event. The closest example I can think of to these moderators would be the moderators of tweet chats. If you would like to see one up close and personal, then please attend the weekly #HITsm (healthcare IT social media) tweet chat that takes place every Friday at noon Eastern. Message me on Twitter if you’ve never tweet chatted before, and I’d be happy to show you the ropes.
  • Evaluate Opportunities: After the four day virtual ideation event was over, a team of Merck analysts combed through the “catalogue of ideas” to get a better sense of the true number of possible outcomes. They combined this with market research to evaluate the size of the opportunity with a probability of success. In a force ranked order, each idea was given an action plan.

Ultimately, this catalogue of ideas was then fed into R&D to create products that Merck can bring to the market. Merck also learned through the IdeaBoost process that virtual ideation wasn’t just about getting ideas. Through this process, Merck employees were able to learn what working socially really means. They immediately found value from enterprise social in their daily work through learning together and understanding the knowledge across the organization. It was shown to be an “eye opening” experience for the 300 individuals participating in the event.

Merck simply reinforced the notion that diversity fosters creativity. Using enterprise social, when you bring diverse groups together ideas will naturally flow into the every day life of your organization.

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Melody Smith Jones

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